Simply put, appointments are the lifeblood of any successful NCI program. In fact, a question on the Diagnostic Exam we administer to CSRs during training week reads like this: “Without _________________________, your marketing program is history.
The correct answer is “good appointments.” What follows are suggestions which should help you increase your appointment volume from both your Appointment Setters and your CSR:
For Appointment Setters:
- Be aware of the basics, i.e., that your appointment setters should be making at least 80 dials during their 4-hour shift, and that they are adhering to the scripts and rebuttals exactly as they are written. Most programs start out this way, but over time can deviate from what we know succeeds. The importance of the basics should be continually stressed.
- It’s very important that appointment setters have good, viable lists to dial from. Don’t have them work a particular list for so long that they irritate the business owners on it while becoming frustrated themselves. They should always be calling both new businesses (established less than one year) and established businesses each day. Supply them with lists of newly registered businesses each month or, at least, each quarter—in theory these are the “hotter” leads since these businesses are less likely to be working with another accountant.
- If an appointment setter who is diligent with his/her deals and faithful to the delivery of scripts and rebuttals as they are written struggles to get appointments, try giving them a different list encompassing a different geographic area within your community. In most places, certain ZIP Codes will prove more fruitful in obtaining appointments than others depending on various factors.
- Any time an appointment setter hears the most common objection they’ll hear--“I have an accountant”— they should deliver the basic rebuttal. But if the business owner still says they’re happy, the Appointment Setter needs to try to extend the dialogue by asking “May I ask what services your accountant provides you?” Services and fees provided to small business clients are all over the board, and if the business owner hears about the package you have to offer, it could very well strike a chord that they’re not getting all the help they need. This follow-up question is truly critical any time there’s discussion about their current accountant.
- Take one night a week from home or office and make calls for an hour and a half. There are many sources you can use to make these calls, but you should always make dials from your appointment setters’ lists to businesses they consistently can’t reach during the day. Many times, these may be contractor types like plumbers, electricians, etc. who are at job sites during the day and can only be reached in the evening.
- Develop as many networking opportunities as possible. BNI (Business Networking International) groups are everywhere and have helped many firms build their practice. (I know of one CPA who has started chapters over the years with great success). Participation in groups like this entail a cost and there are cons as well as pros to joining them, but obtaining one client more than covers the cost for a year. There are many networking events that Chambers of Commerce sponsor, and they are free to its members. If you are a Chamber member, take advantage of these opportunities. If you are not a member of at least one Chamber, why not?
- Ask for referrals from everybody—your clients, business associates, friends, and family. Referrals will always be your best lead source and are by far the easiest to close.
- Don’t overlook walking in to certain businesses while canvasing and during daily life—you should be looking for signs that say “grand opening”, “under new management”, “coming soon”, etc. I was recently cold-calling with a CSR in a payroll program, and we walked into a place with a “coming soon” sign out front and signed them up on the spot without needing to schedule an appointment!
- Don’t forget to follow up on the Help Wanted ads and CraigsList postings for part-time bookkeepers. The NCI package of services you offer could very well be the perfect fit for those businesses and end up being a more cost effective solution than hiring a part-time bookkeeper. Even if they feel they really need that person, the business will still need a CPA and you might have the opportunity to discuss a wider variety of services.
- Enhance your internet marketing. Pay-per-click programs, search engine optimization, e-mail opt-ins, e-mail blasts, a company e-newsletter etc. are all ways to get traffic to your website and increase your appointment volume.
It’s generally thought that obtaining appointments is a numbers game, and to a great extent, that’s true. Continually monitor results and don’t be afraid to be creative and experiment from time to time with some new ideas you and your CSR may come up with.
Pete Borrelli has been associated with NCI for the last 10 years: three as a CSR with two CPA firms in Rochester, New York, and seven as a Senior Account Executive implementing NCI's Client Acquisition Program in the field. Prior to joining NCI, Pete was in sales with Commerce Clearing House (12 years) and Paychex (2 years), where he had the opportunity to work closely with the accounting community in Rochester. Pete recently developed the Client Acquisition Program for Payroll for NCI.
Pete holds a Master's degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, and still works out of his home base in Rochester, New York.